Posted twice before: I adore this clip from Don Siegel‘s Charley Varrick (’73), in which Walter Matthau‘s titular character tells John Vernon, portraying a mob-connected banker, that he wants to return a pile of ill-gotten mafia money.

Just after 1:03 Vernon conveys something about serendipity with a wonderful economy, using a gently changed expression and a little gesture with his left hand. Arguably the most elegant piece of acting that Vernon ever performed, the gesture seems to say “sometimes there’s God, so quickly!” — a Tennessee Williams line from A Streetcar Named Desire.

In ’85 I was working in publicity and had a chance to speak to Vernon on the set of Hail To The Chief, a TV series about a female U.S. President (Patty Duke) in which Vernon played a hawkish military advisor. I told him I was a huge admirer of this little slice of Varrick, but he didn’t seem to get what I was saying. He just brushed it aside and indicated he wouldn’t mind if I left him alone. I was probably the only guy on the planet who’d ever recognized, much less said to him, that his Charley Varrick hand gesture was some kind of beautiful.

Or he did feel a certain pride but didn’t care to share it with a fan? Whatever. Perhaps he felt insulted by my not praising some meatier part that he once played (the Mal Reese character in Point Blank, his Cuban revolutionary Alfred Hitchcock‘s Topaz, the husband of Sophia Loren in Ettore Scola‘s A Special Day).

Vernon died at age 72 on 2.1.05, following complications from heart surgery.